WE SAT THERE for a few minutes after the door closed. Jason was still wrapped around me, and I leaned back against him. He leaned his head against the side of my face. It was as if both of us let out a long breath wed been holding. I should have felt worse that Richard had left, but after that momentary fear, I felt bettercalmer, at least.
Why do I feel calmer? I said.
Because Im not afraid of getting my ass kicked by my Ulfric for being another wolf whos metaphysically tied to his lupa. He could have taken it like you were cheating on him with me. He outweighs me by more than fifty pounds, Anita. Most of thats muscle.
I snuggled against him, stroking his bare legs where they were still wrapped around my waist. Yeah, neither of us would win if it came to a fair fight with Richard.
I felt him smile just by the movement of his lips against my temple. You think like a guy, Anita. Richard would never fight you the way he would fight me. Enjoy that part of being a girl.
I ran my hands over the surprising smoothness of his legs, and realized that there were tiny, fine hairs on his legs. So blond, so delicate, that you couldnt really see them unless you touched them. I played my hands along those fine hairs, a gentle back-and-forth. Id found that touching helped me think lately. Micah said it was the beast in me. Maybe, or maybe I would have always been like this if Id let myself. It was a chicken/egg kind of question. I let it go, and just enjoyed that it helped me be calm.
Ive spent most of my career having to fight bad guys who didnt give a shit that I was a girl, Jason. It changes how you look at things.
If you say so, but if Richard hurts you physically, its by accident. If he hurts me, its on purpose.
A lot of his anger was from me, literally. I think hell be a lot more reasonable now.
Jason nuzzled his face against my hair. If that was your anger, then Im with Richard, you have amazing self-control.
I laughed, an abrupt, not exactly happy sound. I know people who would argue I have no self-control at all.
Theyre just jealous, he whispered.
Hadnt I thought something like that earlier? I did not want or need another man tied to me metaphysically. I just seemed to keep collecting them. I didnt mean to.
Lets get dressed, he said, kissing the side of my face and beginning to untangle himself from me.
I laughed, and this time it was real. You suggesting we get dressed? Usually, having someone be my animal to call makes the physical stuff more compelling, not less. I turned in time to catch his grin, as he stood fastening the towel more securely around his waist.
I promised my dad that wed see him yesterday. I dont know what excuse I can give him, but I want to see him.
You seem I didnt know what word to use.
I feeland he seemed to search for a word, toomore solid. He grinned down at me. You are one of the most certain people I know; maybe thats what Im getting from you. Oh, God, me with actual ambition and goals. Too weird.
You have goals, I said, kneeling.
He shook his head. No, Anita, I float. I went to college because youre supposed to. Once my folks wouldnt let me major in drama, college didnt really matter to me. Then I met Raina, and she showed me the kinkiest sex Id ever imagined, and she made me a werewolf. I said yes, because she was beautiful and insatiable. Not because I wanted to be a werewolf. I worked at Guilty Pleasures because it pissed my family off and helped me have some money of my own. I didnt say as a little boy, I want to grow up to be an exotic dancer. His face fell into serious lines, so rare for Jason. I let Jean-Claude feed on me the first time because Raina gave me to him. Giving him donors from the pack was part of the bargain between Jean-Claude and the wolves.
That I had known, because it was how Richard ended up with Jean-Claude, though he had refused him blood. You can give a vampire a werewolf, but you cant make the werewolf cooperative. I knew that part, I said.
I think part of the appeal to being Jean-Claudes pomme de sang was that it would bother my dad so much. He smiled, quick and so him. Besides, Jean-Claude is sooo hot.
I frowned at him. You are not as bisexual as you pretend to be.
He grinned at me. And how do you know?
I frowned harder. I think Jean-Claude is an exception to your rule, just like Belle Morte is And then I stopped. I hadnt meant to say that.
Jason gave me a look. Are you telling me that you did Belle Morte?
I started concentrating on picking up the trash that wed knocked onto the floor when the trash can fell over. It was a vision. She shared enough energy with me to keep Jean-Claude and Richard from dying when theand I had to stop myself from saying Harlequin, and finished withthe scary guys with no name came to town.
Jason knelt with me and helped me pick things up and drop them in the small container. The bedside trash cans are always too small in hotels.
But, that you mentioned it out loud means something.
I shook my head. I know that Jean-Claude loves her still. I know that to once love Belle Morte is to always love her. Its like an addiction; you can stop taking your drug of choice, but youll always crave it.
Do you crave her now?
I shook my head. No, but, I know if I ever saw her in person and she wanted me, I wouldnt be able to say no. Shes notshes Belle Morte. I shrugged. How do you explain someone who simply is sex? Sex and power were merged for her, and thanks to Jean-Claudes memories I was sort of pre-addicted. I wasnt even embarrassed about it, which wasnt like me. I got embarrassed about every damn thing.
I put the trash can back in its place with all the little bits of debris back inside it. Jason said, Youve missed something.
I looked at the floor. No, I said.
He pointed at a spot on the carpet. Right there.
Theres nothing there, Jason.
He picked up something from the floor. The momenTHE held it, I could see it, but up to that moment I had not. He held his hand out with the charm on his palm. Can you see it now?
I nodded, trying to swallow past the sudden choking of my pulse. I knew Marmee Noir had mind-fucked me, but it should have passed by now. This proved it hadnt passed. How royally screwed was I? But the fact that she didnt want me to see the charm meant she feared it. That was a good thing to know.
I held out my hand and Jason gave me the charm. The moment it touched my skin, it was as if the world shifted, or at least the inside of my head did. A moment of nausea, dizziness, and I wrapped my hand tight around the charm. God help me, what was she trying to do to me?
Again, Jason echoed me, almost. What does she want from you, Anita?
She wants me as her human servant, I think.
Maybe, he said, but I think its more than that.
What could I do for her, Jason? Shes the most powerful vampire on the planet.
Youre the first real necromancer in the last several hundred years, Anita. Whoever has you as their human servant gains a lot of power.
You havent felt her yet, Jason. She is scary powerful. She doesnt need more.
All vampires need more power, Anita, even I know that. Theyre always afraid that someone else with more will come into their territory and take it all away from them.
The vampire council has declared it illegal for masters to fight in this country until the whole legal thing is more secure.
Then shes breaking her own laws.
I nodded. He was right. The vampire who had given them their laws was breaking them. Why? Then I made a mistake. I thought, What do you want from me?
I smelled jasmine.
Jason grabbed my arm. I smell perfume.
The momenTHE touched me the scent of jasmine faded, like perfume when you come into a room, and the woman who wore it has just left. Some women are like that; just their scent can make you walk from room to room until you put a face and body with that perfume. I shook my head, and tried to shake the thought with it. That didnt sound like my thought.
I looked at Jason, with his hand still on my arm. Who wore perfume that you liked so much that you followed her from room to room?
I dont know what youre talking about, he said, and then a look came over his face. He seemed to be staring at something in the room, but his eyes said he was seeing a memory. That look of staring at far, far away things filled his blue gaze.
There was a woman when I was in high school. She was the first crush I had who wore expensive perfume. It lingered on the air, delicate, just a hint, so you could follow her through the school.
I touched his arm. I thought just now about that very thing. About how a womans perfume could lead you from room to room. It had to be some crush for me to get that image so clearly from you.
He looked at me then, rather than the memory in his head. You know that night that my sister Bobbi swears she saw me having sex with a man?
I remember the argument.
I was with that crush. She was married, and my teacher. I promised her Id never tell, and I never have.
How old were you?
He smiled, somewhere between his grin and something wistful. Legal, but barely. She waited until I was legal.
I didnt know what to say to that. When I was in high school it would never have occurred to me to approach a teacher. They simply did not exist for me as sexual objects. The taboo was too great. I was in college before I found a teacher who made me, even fleetingly, think of crossing that line.
So you can prove it wasnt you that your sister saw, but not without ruining the life and reputation of this woman.
Ironic, I thought.
Ironic is one word for it, he said.
I stared at him. You do know that I didnt say ironic out loud, right?
Jason looked startled. I heard it.
I only thought it, Jason.
We looked at each other. Do I apologize? he asked.
I shook my head. No, lets just finish getting dressed and see if the hospital will let us see your dad.
He stood, and we both kept holding on to each others arms as we stood, so it was anyones guess who helped who stand.
I guess it is past visiting hours, but Anita, we need to go home. We need St. Louis, and Jean-Claude, while we do this new metaphysical stuff, but I cant go until we see my dad again.
Agreed. I let go of him, and we stepped apart. I stood still, I think waiting to see if I smelled jasmine again.
Okay? he asked.
I nodded and reached up to the gold chain around my neck. I slid the charm onto the chain so that the cross and the charm both touched my skin. There, that was better. It was like I could breathe a little easier. I reached for the T-shirt Id put on the bed and slipped it on. I was in the process of putting it on when there was a knock at the door.
We looked at each other. He shrugged. I picked my gun up off the bed and walked to the door. I looked through the peephole and found yet another pair of the suited guards with the addition of two of the hotel security guys in their blazers.
Security, I said, and looked back at Jason.
A mans voice called, Mr. Schuyler, theres been a problem.
I opened the door. The suited guard was Rowe. Whats up, Rowe? I asked.
He looked way too serious for comfort. The room has been compromised. We need to move you.
The vampires who are looking for Keith Summerland have been given this room number. We need to make sure neither of you is here when the vampires arrive.
I wanted to argue, but there was something about how serious he was, and how serious all the security had been, that made me decide to argue later. There was always time to argue later.
Jason went for the suitcases. Let them in, Ill change in the bathroom.
I stepped back to let Rowe and the rest into the room. Wheres Shadwell?
Hes on a break. The two hotel guards stayed in the open doorway. I looked at them. They looked human. They had fed on someone to give color to the pale cheeks, but one look and I knew what they were. I started to raise my gun and yell, Vampires! Then one of them threw something into the room. Threw it so fast that the movement was seen, but not registered in my head, before the flash-bang grenade went off and the world went away. Oh, I was conscious, but I was also blind, and so disoriented that the next thing I felt was pain. I reached for what hurt and found a dart. A tranquilizer dart from the feel of it. I tried to bring my gun up to where theyd been. I tried to see them, but with the combination of the grenade and the drug, the world was full of swirls of color, and shapes that didnt hold still. I heard Rowe yelling. I fell to my knees. Someone took my gun and I couldnt stop them. I couldnt make my body move. I fell to the carpet and the mess of clothes and drying body fluids, and then the world went away, as if someone had turned off the lights. One moment I knew I was on the carpet in our room; the next, nothing.